It’s been a very busy month so far between the roadshows that started in the far south and many meetings and workshops with our partners at FENZ.
We’re working on ongoing reviews to two Acts at present to protect the interests of our large volunteer membership. Firstly, the Health & Safety at Work Act 2015, which is open for submission for changes until the end of this month. Currently the Act requires volunteers (under the definition of ‘workers’) to have the same rights and protections as paid workers under the legislation. But the legislation provides volunteers less rights for participation in H&S matters than for employees. The FENZ Health, Safety and Wellbeing Manual meets the requirements of the Act, but accordingly there is a difference between how employees and volunteers are treated regarding participation.
We’ve met with Fire and Emergency NZ Chief Executive Rhys Jones and Director of People & Capability Brendan Nally to raise this issue. We argued that while FENZ was compliant with the law it would be good to go beyond just the requirements of the law and provide volunteers with equal participation rights in all health, safety and wellbeing matters. They agreed with this submission and are currently reviewing their policy. The UFBA is also making a submission to Government to alter the Act to provide volunteer firefighters with equal rights of participation. Given the unique nature of a volunteer firefighter role and the fact that volunteers are mentioned specifically in the Fire and Emergency Act as being treated equally with employees we think there is a strong case for Government to make a concession for our volunteers.
We have come to understand that FENZ and St John Ambulance are reviewing the MoU for medical response and that changes are proposed by St John for the medical first responders pre-determined turn outs. The UFBA are insisting that both parties consult with us in these matters to ensure clarity around expectations for volunteers.
We have our ear to the ground regarding a possible submission opportunity to a new Bill under the Crimes Act, specifically the Protection for First Responders and Prison Officers Bill. The UFBA has reviewed proposed changes including mandatory minimum sentences of 6 months’ imprisonment for those caught assaulting first responders. The proposed changes also consider inclusion for ‘emergency health and fire services’ personnel and does not discriminate between paid workers or volunteers. Affording the same protection by law for both is a key step in respecting the rights of volunteers as equals to paid workers. While an official submission process has not yet been announced we would support all amendments that protect the rights and safety of our volunteers.
Beyond our advocacy I’ve also had the pleasure of attending roadshows in the far South and thank those who came along to enjoy the networking and food. Thanks must also go to our host stations. I look forward to the next roadshows commencing in the Wairarapa and then moving north until I return to the South Island at the end of the month.
Remember as an Association we rely on you, our members, to work with us to make your voices heard. If you ever want to discuss any concerns that impact you in your role we want to hear from you. Get in touch via ‘Contact’ on our website.
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